Kieran Moore – A couple of months ago I came up with a top 10 list of songs featuring guest stars that appeared on The Muppet Show in 1978. I had such fun writing that list I vowed I’d eventually work my way through every year. Today I’m coming closer to hitting that target by featuring songs from 1979. One of the best things about this chart (and the previous one) is that I get to throw a spotlight on the guest stars, which I don’t usually do. Whether it’s because a performer is singing their biggest hit or trying out something you’ve never seen them do before, guest star songs can often be the stand out moment in a particular episode. Compiling this list has been tough and there are a couple of songs that are lying bloody and broken having battled desperately for a place, but just didn’t make it. I apologise to those songs in advance!
As before, I’ve taken my dates from this site: http://epguides.com/MuppetShow/ because this seems to use the original U.K. ATV airdates. The Muppet Show is a syndicated show that was then syndicated to the U.S. so the exact airdates are always a bit squiffy, but I’ve checked these against the handful of TV guides that are online and they seem to match, so for the purposes of this article they are Gospel!
10 – Hey Down/Merry Dum Dum – Lynn Redgrave
What eventually made this song pip several others to the number 10 spot is that it’s an original song for The Muppet Show, written by Derek Scott and Chris Langham. I love the medieval, English folk sound of this tune and think it’s really clever how they manage to fit it with “The Muppet Show Theme” at the end. Lynn Redgrave isn’t known as a singer, but as this song shows she could have had a very nice career in musicals if she’d wanted to. An interesting Lynn Redgrave fact: according to her Wiki page she is the only person to be nominated for an Oscar, Grammy, Emmy and Tony, but never win a single one. That makes me sad, especially based on her performance throughout this show as she really gets into the spirit of the whole thing. Hopefully, wherever she is her 10th place status here will be some small compensation!
What I love about this number is the way that one song is performed in three very different styles. When I sing with my a cappella group one of the things that we like to do is take a song and change it up (e.g. “We Three Kings of Orient Are” to the tune of “Scarborough Fair”) so I really appreciate what they’ve done here. I think my favorite version is the second one as the soft, sultry overlay really works. I’ve always wanted to hear “Let’s Get Together” from “The Parent Trap” done this way. As with the previous song, I like how they’ve managed to tie this in with “The Muppet Show Theme” at the end – it’s a smart way to make it extra Muppety. Similarly both of the songs so far are sung by people known much more for their acting then their singing. The Muppet Show really excelled at allowing stars to try different things and it’s definitely one of its strengths.
Let’s be completely honest, the main reason this song is number eight on the chart is down to the superb performance here from Caroll Spinney as Big Bird. That’s not to do down the fantastic talents of Leslie Uggams – she sounds fantastic here and this song could have been written with her in mind as I think she’s a perfect match for it. Though her miming skills are dubious, she performs this number with real sparkle. The song is pop-py and frothy and sounds like the 1970s distilled into music form. I recently watched “I Am Big Bird” (if you haven’t, you really must) and I have to say it gave me a whole new perspective on Caroll and how he works, so watching Big Bird here is like seeing him through brand new eyes. He’s brilliantly expressive and never once out of time with the music which is a problem that lots of costumed characters seem to have. “I Am Big Bird” is an incredibly worthwhile watch and I’m wondering if it had an Academy Award qualifying run last year or if it’ll be eligible next spring due to its 2015 release?
Roger Miller is a singer that I seem to have a strange relationship with. I guess before you all back away slowly I’d better put some context around that sentence! I must admit that although I find his music very listenable I don’t know if I’d ever consider myself an enormous fan and yet several years ago when I wrote a short musical (I’m an award-winning lyricist, don’t you know!), Roger, and probably more specifically his character in Disney’s Robin Hood was a big influence on the characters and storytelling. He is also only one of a very small number of artists to have appeared on my internet radio show four times (I’d have to check, but I think it might just be him, Cher and Tina Turner!) The Roger Miller episode on The Muppet Show is a lot of fun as it’s the famous one where the cast contract cluckitis and turn into chickens – hence the staging of this song. Roger’s songs here are the epitome of fun; as I stated above they are incredibly easy to listen to and he is a fantastic performer who seems to be having a ball.
From Roger to Rogers! And two medleys in a row as well! I did contemplate splitting them up, but getting a top 10 was hard enough on its own so I’ve ordered them as I called them! Roy and Dale both performed solo numbers on their episode of the show, but I just couldn’t pick one over the other. They are such amazing performers; I could listen to their harmonies all day. There’s a nice mix of tunes here with the Lobster Banditos picking up the tempo midway through the medley, but it’s Happy Trails at the end of the piece that really is the standout for me. It has that nice clip-clop western lullaby tempo that calls to mind songs like “A Cowboy Needs a Horse” and “Blue Shadows on the Trail”, both of which I love. This is probably a good point to mention how much The Muppet Show of 1979 used country, bluegrass and folk music and this is certainly reflected in this chart. It could be argued that seven out of 10 of the songs here have their roots in those genres.
I suppose it goes without saying that Liza’s singing and dancing is superb. I don’t think anyone would dispute the fact that at her best she’s a tough act to beat. This season four episode might be one of my favorite from The Muppet Show’s entire run. It breaks away from the usual format brilliantly – having an ongoing storyline yet remaining very much a variety show (as with the Lynn Redgrave episode), but also has the added bonus of a guest star that plays so brilliantly off of Kermit and the gang. I really like the dramatic opening to this song and part of me wishes it continued in that vein just a little longer. This song is exactly the sort of thing The Muppet Show got right. It was musical, poignant, told a story and showed the guest star off to full effect. Seeing Liza dance with a Mutation makes me think – how easy would it have been as a dancer in London in the late 70s to lie and say that you were performing with Liza Minnelli, Alice Cooper and Sandy Duncan et al? I bet there were a few dodgy résumés doing the rounds!
How cute does French Scooter sound in this clip?! It pains me to have to put this song at number 4. In any other year I’m certain it would have placed higher, but 1979 was a stellar year for guest stars and there are some classics still to come. I really, really like this. The song itself is a strange combination of emotional and emotionally detached. It’s dark and mysterious, yet heartfelt all at the same time. When you add in the incredible staging and puppetry it simply takes it to a whole other level. This is a completely different craft to puppeteering the Muppets and I’m sure that Jim Henson and the gang would have really appreciated being able to show this off to such a large audience. When we see puppets on The Muppet Show that are obviously quite different from the usual Muppet gang, I like to imagine that the Muppets themselves are acting as the puppeteers. How neat would that be? I wonder if this was the inspiration for The Ghost of Christmas Past. There are definitely some similarities.
John Denver has an incredible voice with such a lovely tone. Anything that features both the Muppets and John is instantly perfection in my opinion. Although there are several contenders, I’m not sure I can come up with a more Muppety guest star than John. They are a perfect fit and it’s little wonder John and the Muppets recorded two albums, two TV specials and made several public appearances together in a very short space of time after this episode aired. It’s sometimes hard to separate John from the actual Muppets. In fact, it’s telling that generally on The Muppet Show Statler and Waldorf say something positive about the guest star’s performances and yet here they say they “hate” this “sweet number”. That’s criticism that would usually be levelled at the regular cast only. Christmas hasn’t officially started in my house until I’ve listened to “A Christmas Together”. It’s probably my favorite Muppet thing ever. As a side note – can you believe that in the UK John Denver is officially a one-hit wonder?
As mentioned before, country songs were very much in vogue on The Muppet Show in 1979 and this is one of the best. However, it also has several other elements from previous songs on the chart so it feels like the ultimate 1979 Muppet Show song (even though on my chart it isn’t!) It has the moody emotion and puppetry of “We Must Believe in Magic” and the poignant story of “Copacabana”. It really is something special. It’s hard to tell as an über-Muppet fan, but this seems to be one of the moments that The Muppet Show is best remembered for by casual fans, certainly it has the most YouTube views of any song on this chart by quite a number. I guess it could be considered the guest star equivalent of “Mahna Mahna”. The song is sung brilliantly by both Kenny and Jerry Nelson and, Muppet bias aside, I actually think that Jerry does a better job of wringing the emotion out of the song. Ordinarily this would easily have walked it to the number one position, but…
Was there ever any question that this song would be number one? It’s truly one of the defining moments of The Muppet show. It’s the yin to the Muppets’ penguin throwing, cheese dancing, set exploding yang. It’s one of my all-time Muppet moments and I’ve yet to meet a fan that wouldn’t include it on a list of their favorites as well. This song clearly resonated with Jim – firstly, there aren’t many songs that get the privilege of usurping The Muppet Show Theme, but more than that it was also performed by Harry at Jim’s memorial service. I never met Jim, but it’s somehow comforting to be able to hear these lyrics and feel that they matched his philosophy on life and our place in the world. It helps us feel closer to him. The puppets in this number are striking because they are visually different from Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo and yet because they all appear onstage together they have to look like they inhabit the same world. It’s a hugely successful example of Muppet design. The singing all round is superb (I love Louise Gold here) and the puppetry strikes a nice balance between the serious nature of the song and the fun of the Muppets.
In my humble opinion, 1979 really was one of the best years The Muppet Show had. The cast was nicely cemented and they were at the top of their game. The guest stars were beating on the doors, begging to be included so every performer is of a truly high standard. In addition, the Muppets themselves are well established by now so the writing can be more character-based and less pun-filled. It’s all come together to make a very cohesive whole. It was tough to whittle this list down to just 10 songs and I’m sure that someone else could write a list on the same theme with almost entirely different songs. And that’s the power of The Muppet Show. There’s something for everyone. Including Lobster Banditos.
Added bonus – This week Kieran was kind enough to show us the amazing egg his nephew Jared (hey, nice name!) entered in a competition at a local produce show. He named it ‘Kermit the Fregg’ – and he won first place! Congratulations, Jared!